Growing up in Greene County, Alabama, I learned early on that the concept of pro-black didn’t mean anti-white or anti any race or culture. It meant having a mind to promote a people who struggled to overcome—a people—who still struggles to overcome injustices. Oftentimes, the idea is misrepresented because of a lack in understanding the historical context. It is essential to remember that many valuable figures throughout history were white men and women who stood with blacks—then and now—in the struggle.
In recognition of Black History Month, I would be remiss not to recognize an individual whom I considered a friend and mentor, the late Rev. Dr. Thomas E. Gilmore. Rev. Gilmore was the second black sheriff in the state of Alabama and the first black sheriff elected in Greene County. The movie, This Man Stands Alone [a.k.a. Lawman Without A Gun] (1978), portrays Rev. Gilmore’s road to becoming a sheriff in the deep south. Today, the court house square in Eutaw, Alabama is named in his honor.
During my tenure in divinity school, Rev. Gilmore and I discussed much theological dogma, which often led to conversations about Black History. I enjoyed listening to Rev. Gilmore, lift up brave men and women that he knew from the struggle. One such individual was Rev. Frederick Lee “Fred” Shuttlesworth .
Rev. Shuttlesworth led the fight against segregation and other forms of racism as a Baptist minister in Birmingham, Alabama. He was a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). This summer I visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute while back home in Alabama. It was humbling to stand beneath the statue of a man who was such a giant among men.
No one need ever have to apologize for the greatness of who they are. To be uniquely oneself is powerful. Genesis 1:27 affirm that we are created “in God’s image”. As God’s image. . . we should be an official, visible, and comprehensible representation of who God is and what He is really like. Therefore, we should treat others as we wish to be treated (Luke 6:31).
For there are many men and women of great character who have dreamed and practiced what is good. Yet the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned and the dream that we envision for ourselves—our world—has yet to be fully realized. Harriet Tubman said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Living in Alabama, there were things you knew… about the dream… by the time you got to third grade. Even if you weren’t sure whether you learned it at school, church, home or from Uncle Bob. Things like (Oh and yes you knew the dates too):
- the first slaves were brought to the New World in 1619
- people of color fueled the cotton industry of 1793
- abolitionism and the underground Railroad started around 1831
- civil war and emancipation 1861
- post–slavery south began in 1865
- separate but equal 1896
- NAACP founded in 1909
- Harlem Renaissance started in 1920
- Brown v. Board Of Education May 17, 1954
- Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, December 1955,
- Freedom Rides of 1961
- Birmingham church bombed, 1963
- “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Coretta Scott King is from Heiberger, Alabama
- Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Selma to Montgomery March in March 1965
- Voting Rights Act of 1965
- rise of Black Power Movement late 1960’s & and early 70’s
- Shirley Chisholm runs for president, 1972
- Jesse Jackson runs for president, 1984
I’ll stop here… but there’s much more that could be said about Black History through the eyes of a black person who grew up in the 70’s & 80’s in the South. Today… we might have trouble remembering our children’s birthdates—but I bet—we know the assassination dates of John F. Kennedy (Nov. 22, 1963), Malcolm X (Feb. 21, 1965), and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4, 1968).
As an African-American, I love Black History! It’s a legacy. It’s the love of a people who faced daunting options so that others may have choices. It’s the hope of the past, present and future generations. It’s the gift of brave men, women, and children who remind me of the words of Dr. Maya Angelou. . . “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
God Bless. . . I am Wiley’s granddaughter.